MOSCOW (Bloomberg) -- Russian investigators opened a criminal probe into the purchase by state agencies of Mercedes-Benz cars.
A preliminary investigation found grounds to suspect fraud was committed and there was “a breach of trust in awarding contracts,” according to a statement by the Investigative Committee of the Prosecutor General's Office.
The fraud allegation focuses on government officials involved in the contracts who may have had no authorization to arrange such transactions, according to a committee official.
Daimler AG, which owns the Mercedes brand, agreed in March to pay $185 million to resolve U.S. criminal charges that it paid bribes to officials in Russia and at least 21 other countries to win contracts.
“We will cooperate fully with the domestic authorities,” Ute Wueest von Vellberg, a spokeswoman for Daimler, said Friday. “We have strengthened our internal controls and have learned a lot from these incidents in the past.”
Two Daimler subsidiaries, DaimlerChrysler Automotive Russia and Daimler Export and Trade Finance GmbH, on April 1 pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Washington to violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act as part of the original settlement. According to the settlement agreement, Daimler officials made hundreds of improper payments to sell hundreds of millions of dollars worth of vehicles.
Russia is the world's most corrupt major economy, according to Berlin-based Transparency International's 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index released Oct. 26. The index ranked Russia 154th among 178 countries, alongside Tajikistan and Kenya.